Before, when I thought of performance, I didn’t really think too much about the audience. It became really clear, this one thing we’ve never done as a band is a super-stripped-down, minimal approach to songwriting. [I had] this intense hunger to say that we were able to create a body of work within that time. Perfect finds them working through the anxiety of returning to recording in the pandemic — on top of the other myriad anxieties of 2020 — on a polished and cathartic release that can stand alongside Mannequin Pussy’s best, spanning from the raw energy of 2016’s Romantic to the emotional gut punch of Patience standout “Drunk II.” Vulture spoke to the band about the influences behind the EP. When we were in an opportunity to have an Epitaph budget for a music video [for “Perfect”], I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to invite people from these different worlds into our world and create something together? Any way that our communities can overlap to show up for each other and make people remember there are lots of different artists out there to support is hopefully a good thing. I was definitely a little worried to approach them and be like, “So we want to go into the studio, but we don’t have any songs. And now we have Epitaph [after signing in April 2019]. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. But this was definitely unique in that it was the first time that we were not being overly precious with the writing process. I thought of it more as this cathartic experience for the four of us [previously], that there just happened to be an audience at. Kaleen: A lot of the [pre-Perfect] songs, before we even recorded them, we would play them live a bunch of times. Now I feel like I’m thinking much more collectively, like, If I was in the audience, what would wow me? Spontaneity

Missy: Really early Mannequin Pussy stuff was just me writing things alone and presenting them [to the band]. What would I want to see that would really be like, “Wow, I’ve never seen this happen before”? And it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one that this is happening to; you’re part of something much bigger. I know what it’s like to be in that sea, and you’re just like, “Can someone actually talk about something that I see all the time?” [Laughs] So I’m glad I had the opportunity to put something out there and throw a voice, to add to what was going on at the time. And that connection is still real, it’s just happening on a different kind of plane. Recording in person

Missy: After a very strange, like, six months and not feeling creative, we tried to do the “Oh, we’ll have digital practice” thing, but it just doesn’t work for us in the same way as physically being present in a room. Support from producer Will Yip and Epitaph Records

Missy: It was way more fun this time, ’cause I was less nervous about being in the studio working with Will. It was kind of drag in a sense, where there’s these extreme outfit changes.”

Performance, to the band, trumps music. So this was the first time, going in, where he was like a fly on the wall that could talk and give opinions. I’ll come with riffs, and I’ll be like, Marisa’s got this. I was just way too high, felt stuck in the house, and then seeing people die all the time, from COVID and police and other things. [Then we] had this moment where she was like, “I think you got this, Bear.” And I was like, “Oh, really?” One thing that I’ve always loved about this band is that we want to challenge each other creatively in ways, without having to feel like it’s like a chore. You can just keep going. But when it comes down to it, whether or not there is this piece of technology between us, that’s just between two humans who are connecting still. And you’re like, Man, this stuff is just unrelenting. There’s that feeling of isolation and helplessness when the world’s on fire, and then the world’s on actual fire and the problem still continues. Luckily, everyone was super-supportive, like, “Yeah, let’s flesh this out.”

It’s nice to be able to surprise your listeners. I don’t think self-pressure is necessarily a good thing that aids in the creative process — it makes you feel anxious, like, What if we can’t write anything else? Nonmusical performers

Missy: Personally, how I like to spend my free time when I’m not on tour is going to a lot of comedy shows and drag shows. Bear: We were trying to do a virtual thing. The way that we also used to write was, we’d call it Frankensteining the riff, where we’d individually write riffs and parts and then actually see how they could come together to create a full song. But I don’t know, somehow it came out of us in the studio. It’s the follow-up to their breakout third album, Patience, which appeared all over best-of lists in 2019 and led Mannequin Pussy to open for Best Coast and have songs featured in HBO’s Mare of Easttown. I think that the downside of being a musician is that you start to look at [concerts] like there’s no magic left. Missy: We’ve given ourselves a lot of space to write songs. I think it’s why I got so into comedy and drag, ’cause to me, that’s just all magic now. And Will was like, “We need the super-sad song. I was extremely afraid of actually making a song that was a pandemic song [with “Pigs Is Pigs”]. “I know people think I’m kidding when I say that, but it truly was a show like I’ve never seen before,” she explains on a recent call with her bandmates. The product of their eventual reunion is Perfect, a five-song collection that the band, for the first time, wrote and recorded all at once in the studio. It’s important that we dig into the fact that we are a collective that needs to express all the different identities that we have in this band. Something that was like, “Oh yeah, this was clearly written in 2020.” [Laughs] I want it to be understood that this is something that happens even beyond 2020; it’s been going on before 2020. And it’s gonna, unfortunately — hopefully it stops — but it’s probably going to go on after 2020. For me, I was always changing maybe one or two things I would do over the 50 times we played it live before recording it. And it may not have existed had the COVID-19 pandemic not cut that spring 2020 Best Coast tour short, sending the band into quarantine in the middle of a creative and professional peak. He has important things to say. There’s just so much talent in Philly, too, that I think has felt the same way [during the pandemic] that the three of us have. Bear: It felt like riding a bike after not riding a bike for a years. When you see a show, you’re like, Oh, that’s how they do that. Then, by the end of Patience, we were writing in this really collaborative way, with Bear and Kaleen having their own rhythm days and working on things and then bringing them back to the group, and then writing again. He treats us as individual artists in this way that I really respect, where he really recognizes that this is a collaborative effort between us and that it necessitates him getting into the minutiae of what each of us bring. In the past past, if we wanted to go into the studio, we had to play shows to save the money so that we could go into the studio and do things and create things. “This was the first time that we were like, ‘This is what the song is, and we’re not gonna go back and touch it,’” she says of Perfect. But I also see myself out in the crowd. Being in isolation for so long, I was scared to even get together with them to record because I was like, I don’t know if any of these ideas are any good. That’s also how you reach your own communities as well. Related

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Tags: It does not take very long for me to be online before I start feeling impostor shit, comparative-culture shit. Missy of Mannequin Pussy. Some of the best songs by the Philadelphia three-piece explode without warning, like “Control,” the thrilling lead single to current EP Perfect. Colins “Bear” Regisford, who plays bass, is in awe of dancers; drummer Kaleen Reading says self-proclaimed “DIY punk-rock magician” Michael Casey “blew my mind.” It makes sense, then, that virtual pandemic recording sessions didn’t work for Mannequin Pussy last year — the band had to be together, to perform. We’re just going to allow it to be exactly how it came out of us.”

Old Radiohead

Bear: Radiohead was putting up a bunch of live videos [at the beginning of the pandemic]. That was the only thing that was inspiring, in a way, just seeing a band that’s been around for … at this point, I imagined Gen Z would be like, “That’s my dad’s band.” [Laughs.] But I’ve been seeing this band develop since I was a teenager, and to see them put up live videos of that [older] stuff — the idea that you, as an artist making music, you don’t have to to be one singular thing. I was like, How can I put this in words? Missy: It was like, boom, song done, next song. It’s not lost on me to know that we have a predominantly white audience, and that’s fine. I was just talking to someone about how this is the first time I feel like we actually have a body of work, where I feel like in the past, I’d be like, “Oh yeah, we have a few records.” But now, especially with the EP, I feel like we really have these different showcases of all the different styles that we play with and the emotions that we play with and how we approach songwriting. Creating a varied body of work

Missy: [“Darling”] came from a demo graveyard. [Laughs]

Missy: There’s certainly that pressure you feel to write a song again that will emotionally connect with people, especially in the way that “Drunk II” [did]. Maybe there’s something inherently selfish about that, just wanting to be able to say we still created something together in a very difficult time. Saying, “Let’s go in and try to write five songs” seems like a more manageable goal to set for ourselves than “Let’s go in and write 10 songs.” And even saying that, in the back of my head I was like, Shit, I hope we write two. I feel like we pretty much just came up with some sly riffs and sent it to each other, but I don’t think a single one of those riffs even ended up on the EP. Missy: It was always in the back of my mind — I don’t know if it was in the back of his mind — that Bear’s going to, like, take lead on a bunch of things going forward because he has a great voice. Especially coming out of the context of quarantine. People who had never heard of our band before really connected to that song. I think there’s a lot of really great stuff, but I started realizing, Wow, there’s a lot of people who are still getting completely dressed every day and performing for us via their phones and sharing these highly manicured versions of themselves. Watching police violence during the pandemic

Bear: I’m very much a person who believes in just writing exactly how you feel at that moment, because the only way for anyone to feel is to let them feel something you’re actually feeling. And then this was the first time that we were like, “This is what the song is, and we’re not gonna go back and touch it. Photo: Epitaph Records/YouTube

When it comes to punk rock, Mannequin Pussy has mastered the element of surprise. And we just want to try.” That’s an immense privilege — to have a label where they were so supportive of us, and them saying, “Okay, well, we’ll help you make that happen.”

Digital life

Missy: I think that the digitization of ourselves and of artists can be soul crushing, in a way where you feel very expected to perform in these digital spaces. Even though it was only a couple of months, as a musician, I feel like six months of not playing music is a lifetime. That’s the song that’s gonna connect all this.” We started playing around with some stuff, and I was just like, “If everyone’s open to it, I have the song from five years ago that I worked on with a friend that never got finished.” It’s always stuck in my mind as a song I loved. And I felt this overwhelming sense of having to continue to share a life that looked better than it was, and I realized that that wasn’t particular to this pandemic. I think it is kind of funny that we used an 80-second, hyperpunk song [“Perfect”] to talk about the way that we digitize ourselves and sell that image and try to get attention and validation through these representations of ourselves. “It was musical, it was comedy. Missy, the band’s lead singer and guitarist (born Marisa Dabice), only adds more twists and turns in revealing a driving source of the band’s off-kilter spirit: She calls a Weird Al Yankovic concert “the best show I’ve ever seen in my life,” and no, she’s not exaggerating. I was definitely one of those 30-somethings who discovered TikTok for the first time during quarantine. Like, he’s sitting in the room as we’re practicing and giving his input like, “That’s the riff, keep going with that.” It made the process so much less intimidating. I felt like I personally was spending more time on my phone than I ever have in my entire life [during the pandemic], and realizing very quickly how damaging that was to my own sense of reality and my mental health. It’s nothing I can explain. Like, people are dying out in the streets for senseless reasons. We had the four songs written, and we were talking about the vibe, like, “Do we want to write one more song?” What would be the thing that would stand alone from everything, all the other emotions and sonic textures that we’ve played with so far? I miss when I was a fan in the purest sense of it, where you go to see something and you’re completely lost with how magical it all seems, that they’re just doing this out of thin air. Working on Patience with him was different because we already had Patience written and done and demoed and recorded for the first time, and then rerecorded.